That Thing You Do: What Makes a 1-hit Wonder

Many of you may have seen the 1996 film, That Thing You Do! Directed by (and, not surprisingly, starring) Tom Hanks, it follows the tale of a fictional 60s band called the Oneders (pronounced wonders). In the film the band becomes immensely popular with a song called That Thing You Do. Soon after this, the band falls apart, leaving everyone to wonder what happened.


This is a classic (although somewhat stereotyped) example of a one-hit wonder. The idea is that a band or artists records a song which comes immensely popular, but never manages to write anything all that great ever again. Sometimes the band might even break up soon after their immense success, although most of the time this is not the case.

Defining One-Hit Wonder

What really makes a one-hit wonder is something that is still debated by many. For example, the book The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders by Wayne Janciks defines it as

an act that has won a position on Billboards national, pop, Top 40 just once.

This is seen as a little to inclusive by many (including me). Many artists who would not be considered one-hit wonders would fall under this definition. A good example would be Jimmi Hendrix, who only had one song ever in the top 40, but is considered by many to be the greatest electric guitarist of all time. Although this is the technical definition generally used by the industry, it is not always considered the best.

So, if this definition doesnt work, how about another one?  A one hit wonder is often defined as any artist that reaches the Top 100 just once, regardless of where it peaks. This would mean that anyone who got on that list once would be considered a Wonder. Maybe this doesnt work either.

So I suppose a one-hit wonder would probably be a subjective term. Perhaps it varies from occasion to occasion. I would define a one-hit wonder as an artist who has one song that is known very well, but the rest of his songs are not known almost at all.

One-hit Wonders and the Internet

Before the advent of the Internet, all music had to be distributed on CDs, tapes, or records. Now, with Internet music distribution, it is much easier for an artist to get out there. A good example of this is Rebecca Black, who would not have become famous (infamous?) without YouTube. Myspace is another good example of a service that could cause someone to go viral very fast.

One hit wonders may be difficult to define, but we can still see that they do exist in the wild.Who knows, you may be the next one

Question: Who is your favorite one-hit wonder?